For decades now, mass media has struggled to accurately represent popular cult characters from other forms of entertainment. Even today barring the excellent work Marvel has done, superheroes and other characters from graphic novels, anime, and video games are unable to find the kind of success their fans hope for when they are finally translated onto the silver screen or in a limited TV series. The heart-wrenchingly bad “Batman Vs. Superman (Dawn Of Justice)”, the almost there “Prince Of Persia”, and the incomprehensible “Avatar: The Last Airbender” have all squandered their rich source material for simple paper-thin and frankly insulting screenplays. Even Marvel has been guilty of the same with movies like “Daredevil” (or maybe its just Ben Affleck who can’t catch a break with superhero movies).
This is why the success of Netflix’s series The Witcher has been heartwarming. It has garnered critical acclaim while staying true to the source material. It has received mainstream attention in spite of adopting a screenplay that can be confusing to most. And it has proven wrong the hundreds of naysayers who think that complicated but popular story arcs don’t do well when adapted for the big screen.
Staying True To The Source material
A few years ago, when Jack Snyder announced that he is going to be adapting the iconic Batman Vs. Superman fight from Batman: Dark Knight Returns in his next movie, the fanboys lost their collective minds (me included). Then the trailer arrived; we all saw Batfleck in that bat armor and I was sure that this is the movie that is going to turn around the fate of DC Cinematic Universe. Somewhere between the trailer and the actual release, Snyder said that he is not going to copy the entire script from The Return Of The Dark Knight comic arc (the seminal issue which features the aforementioned Bat Armor and the best Batman Vs. Superman fight ever, quite possibly the best Superhero Vs. Superhero fight ever), because “he isn’t stupid” and doesn’t want “audience to know what’s going to happen beforehand”.
We all should have seen it coming, but we trusted Snyder who had ironically made his name religiously recreating Watchmen panel for panel. And then the movie launched, and what should have been the most iconic film sequence ever, turned into a “Martha” meme. It was a mashup of bad ideas, shoehorned characters, unnecessary linking of previous movies and overall a disaster (which is putting it mildly). And on top of that, the actual fight between Batman and Superman was a farce. For comparison, here is the same scene recreated in a DC animated movie, watch it and tell me that you don’t get goosebumps when Bats finally have Sups neck in his hands.
Compare it to the Witcher TV series. Which for its first season stuck to the first collection of short stories, “The Last Wish” for its inspiration. It made up backstories for some of its characters sure, but through the 8 episodes of the season, a fan of the franchise could follow the singular thread that sews them together. The series even stayed true in its screenplay, mimicking the non-chronological way the stories were told in the book. Again confusing for a lot of people, but the think tank trusted the fans to help their friends which it did. The Witcher isn’t as famous as Batman or Superman, so it decided to please its core audience first. Impressing the fans of the series, and depending on them for spreading the word of mouth. Which as we all know worked out magnificently.
There were obvious differences, and even more subtle ones, but they were far less than what a fanboy is used to. As a fan, I am not looking for a brand new adventure with new characters who I don’t recognize or different characters shoehorned into different roles just because of some focus survey. I want to see iconic stories, un-diluted and recreated in the most popular mediums, with visuals that match my imagination and then surpasses them, so that everyone could share the feeling I did when I first experienced it. I want to anticipate plot twists, I want to quote along with the most iconic lines, as they are said by some of the most popular faces on the planet. I want authenticity, and with Witcher, I got it, as I waited for Geralt to meet King Foltest and take on the job of his lifting the curse from his presumed-dead daughter. And then once it was over, tell my friends who couldn’t be bothered to read the books, how awesome it was and how they don’t have any other option but to watch it.
Turning Attention Inwards
Witcher has proven how a well-made series can turn casual watchers into fans. People who watched the series, turned to the books, the graphic novels, and indeed the games that have come before the series, as they were intrigued by this white-haired monster hunter played by Henry Cavill. As the series gained momentum, the Witcher books reached new records of sale on Amazon. The games too, all 3 of them recorded peak player count years after they had been released. I am sure as the readers and the gamers experienced the games and the books they found even more reasons to fall in love with the Butcher Of Blaviken.
I can only think of Game Of Thrones as a franchise that had caused such inner reflection among its fans. And much like GoT the Witcher series has a strong start and a decent choice that it can blow it in future seasons. But unlike GoT, Witcher has a relatively complete arc of stories, and 3 very solid games for its fans to enjoy and delve into. The people who will resort to the alternate medium will be able to explore even more details and learn even more about the world of The Witcher. Witcher 3 is not a tie-in made by a mobile studio to promote the movie coming out in a theatre near you. It’s a milestone RPG, acclaimed by all and our own Game Of The Decade. In doing so, The Witcher series has created the perfect feedback loop, fans from the games/books into the series and then fans of the series into the games/books with each bringing even more of their friends along.
We live in a world of pop culture adaptions. More comic books, novels, anime, and video games are being made into movies/series than any other time. The Witcher gives me hope that more creators will respect the intelligence of the fan base and shape even more iconic stories while staying true to its essence. In the meantime, toss a coin to your Witcher.